Saturday, 15 February 2014

Anchoring in a sea of crisis - the artist as memory agent

TO6411 as depicted on Lucy Wood's homepage.


The refugee crisis in the Mediterranean does not seem to find an ending. It was only in the early beginning of this year that 233 migrants were rescued by the Italian navy. According to Navy officials there were men and women from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia and Mali as well as from Pakistan. Following Reuters the number of sea arrivals from Northern Africa to Italy has tripled in the course of 2013, all told. The urgency that is implied in this report demands for the kind of mediator that Ètienne Balibar has in mind.

At this point I would like to suggest British artist Lucy Wood for this role, who has been engaging with the refugee problematic for the last couple of years. After several visits to the island of Lampedusa she achieved to convince local and national Italian authorities to grant her one of the refugee boats. Together with T06411 (see image above) the artist travelled from Lampedusa to London. During her performance-piece (this name has been given to it by the artist herself) she organized sit-ins with locals from the 63 stops (see map). While navigating the vessel (which had beforehand been put under construction to meet European standards) Lucy Wood supplemented her journey with constant blog entries on the project’s blog “The chronicles of Lampedusa.2013.” Here she reflected on the difficulties and progresses of her project. “Lampedusa to London” is the forth chapter of her “Distant Neighbour”-project.[1] The preceding three chapters had already dealt with migration and displacement – a major concern in the artist’s work.[2] 

With her performance Lucy Wood in a way gives a site to the floating memory of the refugees of the Mediterranean and at the same time she enacts the concept of travelling memory. Within the realm of transcultural memory the notion of “travelling memory” has been pitched by Astrid Erll to capture “the fact that in the production of cultural memory, people, media, mnemonic forms, contents, and practices are in constant, unceasing motion.”[3] Erll argues that literature and art can operate as memory agents, which are actually shaping transcultural memory. With her project “Distant Neighbours” Lucy Wood appears to be precisely such a memory agent.

Another sit-in on T06411 will be organized together with the artist in march 2014, while the boat is still based in London. Further details will be announced here.


[1] When discussing the parable of the Good Samaritan Avishai Margalit argues that “the notion of a neighbour is powerful enough to cross tribal, religious, and ethnic boundaries.” The second part of her project title “neighbour” can thus get over the distance that might geographically separate continental Europeans from the refugees on Lampedusa. Avishai Margalit, The Ethics of Memory, Harvard University Press, 2003: 42.
[2] The first chapter „Vecinos distantes“ (2009) focused on „the migration of Mexicans and Central Americans from Mexico to Arizona USA.” The second and third chapters “Vincini Lontani 2 & 3” already stressed the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean, namely on Lampedusa. The information is taken from the artist’s project homepage: (last visit: 03.01.2014).
[3] Astrid Erll, Travelling Memory, in: Parallax, vol. 17, no. 4, 2011: 12.

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